Blues cruise past Fijian Drua to open Super Rugby Pacific season in style

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Zarn Sullivan goes across for the try for the Blues against the Fijian Drua in Whangārei on Saturday. PHIL WALTER / GETTY IMAGES

At Semenoff Stadium, Whangārei: Blues 34 (Hoskins Sotutu 2 tries 11min, 40min, Caleb Clarke try 15min, Zarn Sullivan 2 tries 20min, 62min, Dalton Papali’i try 33min; Stephen Perofeta 2 cons), Fijian Drua 10 (Ratu Rotuisolia try 45min; Isaiah Armstrong-Ravula pen, Isikeli Rabitu con). HT: 29-3.

Yellow cards: Isaiah Armstrong-Ravula 39min; Finlay Christie 45min

The Vern Cotter era at the Blues is away to a promising start, with the Auckland franchise breezing past the dangerous Fijian Drua in a fast-paced Super Rugby Pacific season opener in Whangārei.

The Blues didn’t quite finish the match as well as they started it, and allowed the athletic Fijians to play a little too much rugby in the second spell, but it was nonetheless a solid first-up effort for the Auckland outfit as they ran in six tries to one to bank a first-up bonus point victory over a side that will not be an easy out this season.

Cotter’s men very much laid the foundations for the victory in a polished first 40, with the stiff breeze behind them, when they ran in five tries to carve out a 29-3 advantage in sweltering conditions. They couldn’t establish the same dominance through a second spell that ended with just a try apiece, but safely kept the visitors at arm’s ;length throughout.

The Blues forwards, including debutant Josh Beehre in the second row, got through a decent afternoon’s work, with No 8 Hoskins Sotutu bagging a brace of tries, Sam Darry busy, Kurt Eklund strong on the carry and skipper Dalton Papalii spearheading a solid defensive effort (he and Darry led the tackle count with 19 apiece).

Stephen Perofeta had a strong first-up effort in the playmaking role, with his distribution on point throughout, while Caleb Clarke ran hard, and with effect, for 89 metres on the carry and 7 defenders beaten. Zarn Sullivan’s work at the back was also impressive.

The Drua brought plenty to a free-flowing occasion, with right wing Epeli Momo, lock Isoa Nasilasila and hooker Tevita Ikanivere all prominent in a storng ball-in-hand effort, but just spotted the Blues too much in the second spell.

The Blues had too much organisation, forward muscle and strikepower out wide for the Drua to handle in the first 40, running in five tries with the breeze at their backs to gallop to a 29-3 halftime lead in sultry conditions in the north.

The visitors had their moments when their continuity play and hard running challenged the well-organised Blues defence, but could not find a way through as the home team stayed true to their principles and kept their line intact through the first 40.

At the other end of the field, the Blues had no such trouble, putting No 8 Sotutu across twice, and wing Clarke, fullback Sullivan and openside Papali’i also over the chalk as they repeatedly punished the visitors inside their 22.

The Blues forwards especially enjoyed their work in the hot conditions, with Kurt Eklund, Sotuti, Papali’i and second-rowers Sam Darry and debutant Josh Beehre getting through plenty of work as they put the Drua to the sword in their red zone.

The visitors came out of the sheds for the second spell with more urgency and accuracy, and were rewarded with an early try to lock Ratu Rotuisolia who drove over from a tapped penalty, with Blues halfback Finlay Christie yellow carded in the movement for one too many infringements under pressure.

The home side struck back midway through the spell when Sullivan finished a crisp back move wide on the right for his second score of the match. Thereafter the contest petered out a little with the Blues unable to muster much in the way of prime attacking opportunities into the wind.

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